More than half of UK employers do not think they can fill their skills gaps, says the CBI, which has just published its annual audit of the nation's skills.
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The CBI/Edexcel Education & Skills Survey 2008, which covers 735 firms employing a total of 1.7 million people, shows 53% of employers lack confidence in their ability to find enough people with the right skills.
The firms say basic IT skills are weak, with 56% of them concerned about the ability of existing employees to use computers.
The survey suggests the skills of people already in the workplace are not keeping pace with the rapid development of technology, and 69% of firms are investing in training, particularly to raise IT skills levels.
CBI deputy director-general John Cridland says, "A worrying number of employers have little confidence that they will be able to plug their skills gaps. Too many firms also say poor basic skills are hampering customer service and acting as a drag on their business's performance."
The survey reveals that companies employing people with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) are much more likely to demand a specific degree subject.
Demand for Stem graduates is high in all sectors, with 92% of firms wanting recruits with these skills.
By 2014, it is expected the UK will need to fill 730,000 extra jobs requiring highly numerate, analytical people with Stem skills, with a total of 2.4 million such jobs existing in six years' time.
Currently, however, 59% of firms employing Stem-skilled staff say they are having difficulty recruiting, and the low take-up of Stem subjects at university is largely to blame.
There has been a 15% fall in engineering and technology graduates - 23,300 to 19,700 - over the past decade.
Employers are acting "rationally" by looking abroad for Stem graduates, says the CBI.
According to the survey, 36% of larger firms are recruiting from India and 24% from China. Larger firms are twice as likely as smaller ones to be looking at the expanded EU, including countries such as Poland, to hire Stem graduates.
Overall, more than one in three firms say they will look to Europe for staff in the next three years.